Huawei, the successful and controversial Chinese technology company, officially surpassed Samsung as the biggest smartphone seller for the first time. The achievement was confirmed in a report from analysis firm, Canalys, which found that Huawei shipped 55.8 million smartphones compared to Samsung’s 53.7 million.

Huawei’s second-quarter shipment actually represented a 5% drop from the same quarter in 2019. However, it was able to hold the edge and make history due to Samsung’s shipments dropping 30% compared to 2019.

“This is a remarkable result that few people would have predicted a year ago,” Canalys Senior Analyst Ben Stanton said. “If it wasn’t for COVID-19, it wouldn’t have happened. Huawei has taken full advantage of the Chinese economic recovery to reignite its smartphone business. Samsung has a very small presence in China, with less than 1% market share, and has seen its core markets, such as Brazil, India, the United States and Europe, ravaged by outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns.”

Despite this milestone, Huawei’s success remains mostly isolated to its home country of China. The company has faced restrictions on the sale of its products in the U.S. due to privacy concerns and is currently in conflict with the British government over the removal of its technology from the 5G network. Similar to the situation with Chinese-owned TikTok, many countries fear that Huawei may be providing user data from its phones, tablet, and computers to the Chinese government.

Shipments overseas dropped by 27% for Huawei in the second quarter due to these persistent issues. It managed to stave off decline overall thanks to an 8% increase in shipments in China, where it now controls 70% of the smartphone market.

“Taking first place is very important for Huawei,” Canalys analyst Mo Jia said. “It is desperate to showcase its brand strength to domestic consumers, component suppliers and developers… But it will be hard for Huawei to maintain its lead in the long term. Its major channel partners in key regions, such as Europe, are increasingly wary of ranging Huawei devices, taking on fewer models, and bringing in new brands to reduce risk. Strength in China alone will not be enough to sustain Huawei at the top once the global economy starts to recover."

Huawei has grown to domnate the massive Chinese market Huawei has grown to domnate the massive Chinese market Photo: AFP / WANG ZHAO